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he social-media movement is, perhaps, the most significant of our time. Adoption of info-sharing sites and microblogging platforms has changed the world in more ways than one. If it was a small world before, it's a miniscule one today - and it's getting smaller. It was less than a year ago when Merriam-Webster Inc. added "tweet" and "social media" into its dictionaries, but it's nearly impossible to remember life before status updates and smart phone apps that enable us to share photos, videos, and messages from anywhere, anytime.

Social-media sites have been credited with inciting political revolutions like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt, making its monumental impact on the marketing landscape seem insignificant in comparison. But that impact is an indelible one, and according to our 2012 Social-Media Marketing Survey, it's only going to get bigger.

The survey, sponsored by Lynch Exhibits Inc., is the second in a series of research efforts aimed at determining how exhibit and event marketers are utilizing social media - and whether they view it as a waste of time or an invaluable arrow in their marketing quivers. In 2010, EXHIBITOR surveyed 400 marketers to obtain benchmark data on everything from which social-media sites were proving the most popular for marketing purposes, and what corporate objectives, if any, social media was helping companies to achieve.

With that benchmark in place, the data from our 2012 survey paints a pretty clear picture: The use of social media as a marketing tool has exploded over the past two years. For one, the percentage of marketers using social media as part of their exhibiting programs has increased by nearly 90 percent. But on top of that, a third of marketers report that their companies now have a dedicated "social-media manager" or "social-media department" whose primary responsibility is to strategize, execute, and monitor their brands' social-media presence. That's a stark contrast to 2010, when roughly 85 percent of corporate social-media campaigns were conceived of and completed by the marketing team, without the assistance of dedicated social-media subject-matter experts.

Eight out of 10 marketers say their companies are currently using social media for a variety of purposes, including exhibit marketing (58 percent), event marketing (36 percent), and other general marketing purposes (67 percent). And while the majority of them are turning to mega-popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, other sites such as Pinterest and Google+ are gaining momentum and, not surprisingly, interest among marketers.

Those who are tapping into the marketing potential of social-media applications claim increased brand awareness, enriched relationships with clients and prospects, increased booth traffic and event attendance, additional press coverage, and even increased sales as direct results of their campaigns. Having said that, fewer marketers are proactively setting measurable objectives to track the success or failure of their online efforts. And among them, there has been significant slippage in the fraction that deem their exhibit-related social-media efforts successful.

In 2010, 90 percent of exhibit marketers who established pre-show goals reported their social-media campaigns met or exceeded expectations. But two years later, only 67 percent still feel that way - with none reporting exhibit-related campaigns that exceeded corporate objectives. That either means marketers are expecting higher, unrealistic returns from their social-media investments, or the medium's growth has outpaced its effectiveness.
Furthermore, the marketing benefits of social media - once believed to be "free" - don't come without their own fixed costs, as nearly 35 percent of respondents report spending six or more hours per week working on projects related to social media. And 13 percent of respondents dedicate more than 15 hours per week to their social-media campaigns. Bottom line, social media is anything but free.

That time-intensive reality appears to be the primary hurdle among the 20 percent of respondents who are not currently incorporating social media into their companies' marketing efforts. "Lack of time to dedicate to social media" was the most popular reason for not venturing into the new social frontier, followed by a "lack of knowledge on how to successfully integrate social media with other marketing efforts."

Still, the majority of survey respondents agree that social media is a powerful tool for face-to-face marketers, with 91 percent claiming that it holds "moderate" or "limitless" potential for exhibit and event marketing. And 77 percent of respondents anticipate that the importance of social media as a marketing tool will increase "strongly" or "somewhat" in the coming year.

The following statistics and analysis represent highlights culled from our 2012 Social-Media Marketing Survey, along with anonymous quotes from a handful of survey participants regarding their opinions on social media as a marketing tool. For more information on incorporating social media into your exhibit program, visit www.ExhibitorOnline.com/SocialMediaE




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